Hilltoppers sweep weekend series against Southern Illinois

Baseball Head Coach, Matt Myers speaks about the upcoming season to reporters during the Baseball Media Day, Tuesday, Feb. 10, at Diddle Arena. The Toppers ranked 9th in the preseason Conference USA coaches poll, but Myers said he won’t let the low ranking phase him. Mike Clark/ HERALD

John Reecer

WKU (5-5) scored 28 runs while giving up 13 in three games to sweep Southern Illinois (1-10) in the Hilltoppers home-opening series at Nick Denes Field. 

The three wins were much needed for a Hilltoppers team coming off a four-game losing streak against Evansville, Belmont, and Vanderbilt. 

“We knew we were better than that. We just got off to a rough start and hopefully, this helps to turn the season around,” freshman outfielder Kaleb Duckworth said. 

Duckworth helped the Hilltopper offense score 17 combined runs during Saturday’s double-header, along with another 11 during Sunday’s game. WKU also managed to combine for 33 total hits in the series. 

In game one, Southern Illinois jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead, but the Hilltoppers exploded for five runs in the bottom of the second inning and never looked back, winning the series opener 8-6.

Junior pitcher Josh Bartley gave up 11 hits and five runs in five innings. However, the work put in by the Hilltopper offense in the second inning proved to be enough to earn the win.  

“Josh wasn’t sharp at the start, but our offense came back and did a heck of a job,” Head Coach Matt Myers said. “We are a team definitely built for big innings and to explode quickly”.

Three different players hit multiple RBI’s including redshirt senior catcher Ryan Messex, who went 2-3 at the plate, scoring twice. 

Unlike game one, game two of the series showcased a dominant defensive performance from the Hilltoppers as they allowed only one Saluki run, resulting in a Topper win of 9-1.

Junior John Harman started the game and pitched a gem for six innings, allowing only two hits and no runs. Harman only allowed one runner to advance into scoring position, and threw a career high in strikeouts with eight. redshirt sophomore Kevin Elder also pitched well, throwing for three innings and only giving up one run and one hit.  

“From a pitching standpoint, we haven’t pitched to the best of our abilities, and we know that we are good,” Harman said. “Everyone on this pitching staff has worked this week to try and get us back to where we should be and hopefully, we have made it back.”

For WKU, the final game of the series proved to be an offensive clinic. Nine players recorded at least one hit, tallying 15 total to put up a season-high of 11 runs and defeating SIU 11-6. 

Star performers from the series were junior third baseman Danny Hudzina, who went 6-14 at the plate, adding four RBI’s and three runs, and Duckworth, who went 4-7 at the plate with three runs and three RBI’s including a home run in game three. 

“This is huge for us. I don’t care who you are—sweeps are tough to come by in college baseball,” Myers said. “(Southern Illinois) are a young team over there, but Coach Henderson’s clubs are tough and they fight. We really needed this today, even though it wasn’t clean.”